This blog maintained by and property of The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Decolonization of Schools and Trauma

This might be the darkest hour in recent memory, but, for Native people, our removal from and occupation of our lands is still the darkest hour in our collective history. The analysis of “What went wrong at Red Lake?” fed to us by the mainstream media is superficial and dismissive. The usual diagnosis is applied: the shooter was into heavy metal music, Goth culture (dressed in black), had racial supremacist leanings (never mind that the preoccupation with blood quantum/racial purity has been imposed on us by the federal government to ensure our biological extinction), and other students picked on him, with the additional problems of living in a high poverty area and going to a low performing school. Problem analyzed, riddle solved, and on to the next news item; while WE still have the dead, the wounded, and a shaken and traumatized community to care for.

It seems that with all the mounting violence in schools, increased security, and declining quality someone should have by now examined the school system itself as a possible suspect in this problem. This would be the most logical direction for any astute and concerned school district, parents and community. The fact that no one has bothered to make available how schools disguise their agendas should be examined. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act has hidden clauses that stipulate that the funded are required to disclose personal students’ information to military recruiters (with an opt out clause that schools are even more secretive about). Also, the schools must take performance tests and if those are not up to a standard the schools lose money. These facts are probably not well known because schools remain closed communities, resistant to any real promising changes to their territory. This puts undue pressure on almost all of those attending schools nationwide. Indian Schools, under funded and with high military recruitment rates, are the most to feel the weight with possible long-term impact for those that enter the military and end up in combat. In a perverse twist, the students at Red Lake, in their grief and desperation, have become perfect targets for military recruiters.

To add insult to injury the FBI is in charge of investigating this tragedy. This is the same agency that unleashed a reign of terror on Native reservations in general and Pine Ridge, SD, in particular, pulled every possible trick to incarcerate Leonard Peltier (also an Anishinabe) and keep him in prison, killed Joe Stuntz, and executed a vicious campaign to hunt down “AIM terrorists”. The FBI’s involvement is due to create even more trauma in the Red Lake community that the people will have to cope with.

The economic condition, so heavily underscored by the media, found on most reservations should not be the main focus in this time of grief for the Red Lake community and all the so closely knit Native communities in this country. It should only be mentioned as one of the many hardships brought about by U.S. colonial policies imposed on our indigenous peoples. This continuous focus on our material poverty does an injustice to our issues as human beings. Nonetheless, we are rich in our sense of who we are and wealthy in our understanding of our culture, our ceremonies, and our resistance. This is what will help the families, devastated Anishinabe community, and greater indigenous community.

Until there is an approach that addresses the issues of historical and current contemporary traumas, relevant to our histories and that supports our humanity, we will see our students impaired further by their collective experiences in these school systems. They remain in jeopardy and at serious risks for outbreaks like this in the future. The school system is the catalyst for these eruptions, and for Native students this adds to a legacy of forced ‘education’ that more resembled “re-education camps” than the benign system that is pro-offered by the mainstream. Also, placing all of our trust in the security apparatus is not enough. People power and security in forms other than punitive have to be exercised. Re-addressing interventions, from a healthier perspective, is the best practice approach.

Schools produce this trauma in their methodologies and strict adherence to a system of enforced conformity. Those most resistant to this indoctrinational approach are the most at-risk, although all students in this system are at-risk. The first bully is the system and its enforcers. The trauma is perpetrated by the methods of enforcement, unattainable goals under current conditions, and for the Native population, a colonial curriculum that negates our humanity. In addition, we must recognize the additional trauma from the past, still passed on generation to generation, in which the schools were used to remove our children, destroy our families, and beat our language and cultures out of us. The damage these policies have done to us is incalculable and it remains to be addressed as our families remain broken, our children are still being removed at disproportionate rates, and our cultures have significant gaps that keep us from following the original instructions given to each of our Nations by the Creator.

As a social worker, educator and warrior who has fought for our people, I appeal to all indigenous communities in this country to take the incident at Red Lake to heart and attend to these matters with utmost urgency. Three steps are obvious ingredients for truly dealing with the core issues:

  1. A renewed focus on preserving and healing the Native family,
  2. Taking a critical look at the school system: work to decolonize curricula, make room for traditional ceremonies for healing and unity building.
  3. Providing culturally appropriate mental health services to support the above measures.

I would like to encourage the Native communities to show their support for the Red Lake community and do all that they can since these things have away of cycling back. Sympathetic incidents and even copy-cat incidents can take place if not prevented.

Mitakuye Oyasin
Wanbli Watakpe (aka Russ Redner, MSW)

Contact information:
(360) 456-4283
10905 Kuhlman Road #B Olympia, WA 98513